The Secret To Handling Digital Disruption

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Ahead of Digital Disruption X, Mark Cohen, GM of Product Solutions at Fairfax Media shares three ways Fairfax is placing innovation at the core of their business on their journey towards digital transformation.

Lauren Kelleher
Posted by Lauren Kelleher

1. Fostering an innovation culture

We work hard to foster and create an innovation culture and we create open space for creative thinking through our innovation programmes. The aim of these programmes is to encourage creativity and out-of-the-box thinking enterprise-wide, which can result in new innovative products for our customers.

We run an innovation programme called ‘Ignition’ which was started in my team. It’s like Kick-starter crossed with a hack-a-thon. The concept provides staff with the ability to upload their business ideas to an internal website, where it stays for three months. The first month is the seeding phase where we collect ideas; the next month are the ‘funding phases’ where people are encouraged to recruit funding and backers for their projects.

The third month is the “build” phase, where teams put their prototype together, culminating in a half-day of showcases.

Ignition has a big social element to it, but it’s also like a school version of creating a start-up. It has really helped build an innovation culture throughout our business, as well as taking that innovation to the next level of product development.

For example, through Ignition we built a technology app called ‘Spritz’ which was a speed reading app. We trialled using this on the top of Sydney Morning’s content online, to enable our customers to speed read and get through the day’s top ten news’ stories in ten minutes. Whilst the theory was great and the core technology was great, when we tested it our customers didn’t like the experience.

As a result, we kept the core technology and we transformed it with a new user interface into a Google glass app which we launched internationally. From our internal innovation hub, we’re creating new ideas and new products which we’re refining and giving to our customers to meet their needs.

2. Aligning our products with customer needs

If you define yourself as a company that exists with a higher purpose and build a product that’s more aligned to this definition, the transition to digital is going to be easier.

When we started Fairfax Digital, it was an isolated spin-off from print. We had our own offices and we didn’t share anything with print we didn’t want to. Over time, as print declined, we then combined the digital business into the print business and that’s the way we’re running now.

As part of our digital transformation strategy, we’ve really focused on defining ourself based on our customers, as opposed to the medium we’re using to talk to them. From a media perspective, we assumed the audiences we were building online are those that used to read print and we could easily transition them from one channel to the other.

But the truth is: disruption is not a linear transition. It’s a re-forming of the whole industry. As we move into digital, we are not just fighting to secure our audience we used to have in print, we’re effectively reacquiring them. If we define our higher purpose as “to inform and entertain” then new competitors emerge such as free-to-air- TV, Netflix and foreign clickbait-style media providers.

The generational shift that is hitting not only the media sector, but other industries, is the shift to mobile. When a media company goes mobile, they’re not just trying to secure the audience who used to read news in print; they’re fighting for the attention of people who want to be informed across a number of channels.

It doesn’t matter how our customers wanted to consume information in the past – it’s an entirely new world. Understanding this has been key to the way we are integrating digital into our overall business transformation.

3. Ask yourself: who is going to disrupt your business?

In the wake of digital, new players have emerged who can take away your customers. It’s critical to look at who you think should be consuming your product, and who doesn’t, and understand why.

To stay ahead of the curve, we try to answer the question: if a customer is not using our product, then who are they using in place of us? Because that is who is going to disrupt us.

For example, a customer who wants to get the news – if they’re not reading Sydney Morning Herald, then who are they reading? Part of our strategy is to look beyond our old head-on competitors and to investigate emerging technologies and how we can harness them to reach and engage our customers.

Facebook is the perfect example. There was a survey which recently revealed that a third of people in the United States said that their primary source of news was Facebook. So that’s an example of someone who is disrupting us.

As a result we continually ask the following questions: what are they doing that’s disrupting you? What is the platform they’re providing? Why are people seeing that as a new source? How can we compete with that or offer something they can’t?

They’re the real questions businesses need to ask in order to remain innovative and disrupt their own business in the wake of digital.